Richard Lowry may be the most culturally illiterate journalist now plying his trade. In a column from several years ago, he seemed unaware of who fought whom in the Spanish Civil War. And he has now exceeded his previous record for silliness. In his latest syndicated effort, he informs us that "liberals' are guilty of trying to wrap health-care reform in a "victory as transcendent as that of the civil rights movement," a revolution that Lowry considers to be a "rare and marvelous thing."
Lowry waxes sappy as he describes what for him is a divine epiphany. He can barely contain himself extolling the "genius of Martin Luther King," who taught us to love each other. And he ends by contrasting the health-care bill with the Christ-like purity of the civil rights protestors, who were concerned with "freedom and securing the most basic rights -- to vote and to gain equal access to public accommodations." Unlike this "mess cobbled together by an embattled, ideological congressional majority," the civil rights movement and King "were catalyzed by sacrificial love."
Now that Lowry has contributed to the replacement theology of the Left, by comparing the civil rights movement and its leader to the early church and Jesus, perhaps it would be appropriate to indicate why the former civil rights activist John Lewis and other black Democrats are entirely correct to view Obama's presidency and his health-care plan as being connected to the real civil rights movement. How else would blacks use what Lowry considers a "basic right" to vote, except to endorse the people and policies that Lowry finds unacceptable? Would he expect black voters to be libertarians or think like Lowry's neoconservative patrons about the need to place Middle Eastern wars above domestic concerns?
In February, 2005, Lowry tried to bridge this conceptual gap by comparing Condoleezza Rice's support for the war in Iraq to "the civil rights cause that she supported as a girl in Birmingham, Alabama." Apparently Lowry's parallel had no perceptive effect in turning black voters into neoconservative crusaders for global democracy. But then Lowry has never noticed the obvious. Blacks live more than any other ethnic group off government-run social programs; and it is hardly an accident that they overwhelmingly support health care and any other redistribution programs that the current administration is considering.
As for the "transcendent" moment in the 1960s, which Lowry evokes like an Old Testament prophet touched by the Divine, what we are really talking about is something that resulted in a prodigious transfer of power. Having lived through the "transcendent" as well-orchestrated civil rights demonstrations and the resulting consolidation of federal power, I'm afraid that I don't share Lowry's adolescent reconstruction of modern American history. Once the sitting at lunch counters and the publicized demonstrations in Southern towns were over, what we got was federal and state intervention to counteract discrimination against blacks and then offenses committed against women, gays, Hispanics, Aleuts, and the transgendered. And as even Lowry must have noticed, the black vote was certainly a key factor in electing the present government, which was another consequence of the civil rights movement. Moreover, black leaders, like Lewis, who enjoy the respect of the black community, have been an integral part of just about every leftwing coalition in my lifetime. Their achievement of what Lowry calls a "basic right" to vote has allowed them to lend muscle to the government's vast programs of behavior modification and income transfer.
For some reason, Lowry stops his account of the "transcendent" moment before getting into its full implications. He is like someone writing an account of the French Revolution who stops with the storming of the Bastille. But in Lowry's mind that upheaval might have ended, like the civil rights movement, one minute after it began. The civil rights movement terminated in Selma; the French Revolution in a Paris prison. It is John Lewis and the other congressional Democrats, not Lowry, who have the true understanding of the civil rights movement. It continues to go on, whenever money is being transferred from one race to another and whenever the therapeutic state and its educators make whites feel guilty about the supposed burden of their history. Orwell maintained that there are some things that are so stupid that only intellectuals can believe them. Lowry's ahistorical polemic may go beyond even that degree of stupidity.